Tuesday night, FKA twigs made her US television debut on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, another step in her slow march towards becoming a bona fide pop star.
She performed "Two Weeks" from her debut full-length LP1; it's a song that includes the line "My thighs are apart for when you're ready to breathe in/Suck me up, I'm healin' for the shit you're dealin'/Hi, motherfucker, get your mouth open, you know you're mine." So basically: eat it, dude. On Fallon, she clutched a wide swathe of iridescent material that shimmied alongside her while suspended mid-air, and wore a metal breastplate, like a gladiator.
Twigs has many songs about sex, pleasure, and pain—or at least songs that can be interpreted as such—but what differentiates her approach from other stars working with the same topics is how literally she wields those things as a source of power. In her music, even her sorrow and heartbreak are pools from which she will siphon life after the catharsis, accumulating energy from the heartbeat thrum of her beats. It's all inextricable from her presentation, of course—as a conceptual artist, video director, and professional dancer, twigs' music is as reliant on her multimedia as any artist working today (maybe Björk is slightly more advanced on that tip, but anyone else). She uses all these things to convey a raw sexual power that is subversive in its subtlety, unflinching in its brazenness and, as with the Fallon performance (and videos like "Papi Pacify," which caused many a scandalized blogger to clutch her pearls), actually confrontational in its presentation. In August, speaking about her near-nude video for "Hide," she told me, "It's about breaking up with somebody and feeling like shit about yourself, so I thought it would be really brave to be naked but not have a head! Because as soon as you have a face and you smize into the camera, it becomes really sexy, and I didn't want it to be sexy. I wanted it to be awkward."
A dancer from when she was a young girl, twigs seems to freestyle most of her onstage choreography, which provides a visual focus for her live show. (Though she's been primarily cast as a singer, she is also a producer, and EPs 1 and 2 and LP1 are beat albums, before anything. She uses her voice as another instrument tantamount to a drum machine or a synth—a textural element.) Live, she is breathy, elusive, and a little wan on purpose, a contrast to the way she uses her body, demonstrating a physical strength that is quite different from, say, the way Beyoncé demonstrates hers. On Fallon, she slinked sensually across the stage, but her moves were about showcasing the athleticism of her body. Maybe it was the lights or the way her hair was just so, but she evoked all those super badass women with whom Prince surrounded himself in the '80s, with one major exception: twigs was channeling her sexuality from her sheer strength rather than any traditional mode—channeling her sexuality for her own, rather than the audience's, enjoyment. It's some powerful shit. "You say you want me," she sings in "Two Weeks." "I say, you'll live without it."
The way twigs displays her raw power—a distinctly feminine one, in the way that Athena the warrior god displayed feminine power, if we're being hyperbolic—is intrinsic to the way she moves, her physicality an extension of her music. Even when she's voguing in her Google Glass video, she's executing moves that are specifically rooted in channeling feminine energy and power, duck walks and suicide dips rippling up from swiveling hips. In ball culture, they're the fundamental building blocks of the category of "femme" (or "fem") voguing called "dramatics" and the goal, as it were, is to be "soft and cunt" (even the verbiage projects feminine power!). At twigs' album release show in New York a few months ago, she namechecked the softness and the cuntness of her performance, a little shyly because she'd only recently learned to vogue.
At the end of twigs' Tonight Show performance, Jimmy Fallon seemed cowed, dorkily shouting, "Oh, wow!" Twigs looked out into the audience and blinked.